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A Vital Lakota Value, Personified

By Jim Drevescraft

I was recently very moved by the story of Kevin Poor Bear, a Lakota artist whose own story amply illustrates one of the key values of the tribe: wówakiš’ ake (resilience). In what can only be regarded as the saying, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade” writ large, when Kevin lost his legs because of complications from a spider bite, he might have succumbed to despair. Instead, he continued to explore his creativity and refused to give up.

We will never know if the spider was a black widow or brown recluse, both of which can, in fairly rare situations, cause serious symptoms that can lead to severe infection, but they can hide in woodpiles or the sort of living conditions that many Lakota have to endure. Whatever led to Kevin’s bite and subsequent reaction, he found himself confined to a wheelchair for mobility.

At this point, his resiliency (almost a requirement for being a Native American, given the back story) kicked in. He began to paint even more, with deeply symbolic illustration of Lakota values and history.

In one, he shows Devil’s Tower (in Wyoming) as a place for prayer put there by the Great Spirit, four buffalo the colors of the medicine wheel, and the eagle is a messenger. In the second, he relates that the red eagle symbolizes the broken heart caused all over the world by COVID, and the light and star in the upper corner is a symbol of hope and spirit.

This indomitable self-taught Lakota artist now earns a living selling his paintings outside of Buche Foods, one of One Spirit’s crucial partners offering healthy foods in Pine Ridge and other locations in South Dakota. We of One Spirit not only wanted to recognize Kevin’s courage and resiliency, but also to demonstrate again the remarkable people who make up the Oglala Lakota we support through the generous donations of our supporters.

If Kevin Poor Bear can find the strength to show creativity and resilience one can only hope to learn from his example and find the same in our own lives.


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